Talks will resume Wednesday to avoid a walkout by thousands Southern California grocery workers. They have already given their union permission to call for a strike in the event of negotiations breaking down.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union announced late Saturday that its members had overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike if necessary against stores, including Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions/Albertsons.
“Yes” votes do not automatically mean a strike. It only allows the union to call one in the event of no progress in labor negotiations.
The ballots were open to approximately 47,000 workers who were represented by seven UFCW Locals located between Central California, Mexico border. The membership includes workers from more than 500 stores.
According to a union statement, “Through these past two years, it was the hardwork and sacrifice of our member that helped these… companies earn billions of profits.” “All of our Local Unions have committed to obtaining a contract that recognizes all the essential grocery workers have done for their employers, their customers and their communities as we continue to bargain at the bargaining table.”
Representatives from Ralphs, with 184 stores and 18,000 workers in Southern California, said that the strike authorization was not related to Ralphs’ labor negotiations and would not stop the company’s bargaining for a new contract.
“Our proposal will invest $141 million in wages and prevent increases in healthcare costs. Robert Branton, Ralphs vice president of operations, said that this is a significant commitment from Ralphs to Southern California as well as to our outstanding associates. We have three goals during negotiations: reward and invest in people, keep groceries affordable to our customers, and create a sustainable business that creates future jobs.
“Ralphs proposal meets all three objectives. Only the current proposal of UFCW meets these goals.
We are committed to achieving one of these goals. We encourage the UFCW members to get involved in meaningful and balanced activities.
We are negotiating to deliver our associates wage increases as soon as possible.
SoCal grocery store workers voted to authorize a walkout if they don’t receive their wage demands. Darsha Phillips reports for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. MArch 27, 2022.
Early this month, union officials declared that talks on a contract had been stopped. March 7th was the expiration of a three year-old labor contract between Southern California supermarkets and unionized grocery workers. The terms of the old contract are still in effect for grocery workers.
“Bargaining committees made up of front-line workers from grocery stores and union leaders prepared proposals that would fairly raise wages and improve store conditions in order to meet the needs of workers in a post-pandemic or pandemic world,” the union stated in a statement earlier in the month. The proposal was made by the corporations representing the stores for pennies. This would eventually result in a pay cut due inflation.
Officials from the union stated that they seek a $5-per hour wage increase, which will be phased in over three years. They also want to improve safety standards and provide “adequate scheduling, hours, and scheduling.”
In the following three years, grocery stores will offer annual wage increases of 60 cents per hour totalling $1.80.
Ralphs claims that its proposal will not raise health care costs for associates. Ralphs claims it pays an hourly average wage of $19, with more associates being with Ralphs for over 10 years and more than one third having been with Ralphs more than 20 years.
Ralphs offers health benefits for associates and a pension to retirees.
Branton stated that Ralphs is a place where associates can come to work for a job, and then stay there for a long career.
Union leaders have accused the supermarket chains of committing unfair labor practices, including accusing Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions of conducting unlawful surveillance of workers who are protesting, and accusing both chains of refusing to implement wage increases as required under the previous contract.
The strike that saw Southland grocery store workers walk off the job in 2003-04 was triggered by a contract dispute. It lasted for 141 days. Analysts estimated that the strike cost supermarket chains up to $2 billion and the workers lost $300 million in wages.
During the final round of negotiations in 2019, grocery workers voted for a strike. However, negotiations continued for 2 months and eventually a labor deal was reached. This avoided a walkout.